Why this entrepreneur founded a startup for women’s health amid COVID-19
Mehak Malik grew up seeing her father, an entrepreneur in the apparel manufacturing and export business, hustle at the beginning of India’s trade liberalisation in the 90s.
However, as she was academically inclined as a child and generally at the top of her class, Mehak decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in Economics, and later enrolled at the Public Policy Programme at the Harvard University.
“My influences at Harvard happened to be entrepreneurs and business leaders too – I learned entrepreneurial finance from Prof. Carl Byers who was the founding team member and Chief Financial Officer of AthenaHealth. I also took a class on Building and Sustaining Successful Enterprises, a brainchild of Prof. Clay Christenson, one of the leading business thinkers in America. These influences led me to my role in impact investing post Harvard at Beyond Capital, where I was investing in early-stage social enterprises across India and East Africa,” she says.
At Beyond Capital, where she worked for three years, Mehak led end-to-end investment activity as part of a small global team into seven companies across fintech, health, last-mile logistics, and agritech sectors. She was featured as “12 VCs to know in Africa by Venture Burn” in 2019. She also worked closely with healthcare companies across three countries working in health, education, femtech, ecommerce, telemedicine, and healthcare supplies distribution.
Mehak lived in Nairobi for two years before moving back to Bengaluru.
Towards better women’s health
Last year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she started Uvi Health, a healthcare startup that focuses on women’s reproductive health.
Mehak explains, “During COVID-19, many people, especially those with chronic conditions, lost access to their routine healthcare. Suddenly, there was a vacuum in the market as the offline healthcare industry was overshooting capacity. This is when I started exploring how digital health models could be leveraged.”
She decided to narrow down to women’s reproductive health issues because her initial research revealed that women in India have been spending between 2-10 years in finding the “right gynecologist” or someone they trust, and a shocking 72 percent of women in her surveys were still looking.
“It became clear that trust, accountability, and consistent experience was missing in reproductive health services, and at Uvi Health, we are working to change that,” she adds.
Started in November 2020, Uvi Health currently focusses on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) management through a science-backed approach.
Mehak points out that PCOS affects one in five women in India and its prevalence is on the rise.
“Our programme can help women reverse PCOS symptoms naturally without the need for hormonal birth control pills. Our programme is designed and delivered by a team of gynecologists, nutritionists, and fitness experts who personally work with each of our members to build a customised treatment pathway for them. The programme is completely digital and any woman, anywhere in the country with access to smartphone and internet can enroll,” she says.
A safe space for women
Uvi Health’s target audience is woman across India in the age group of 18-35. It offers a three-month and six-month subscription plan for PCOS wellness priced between Rs 1,700 and Rs 2,000 per month.
Mehak says, in just four months, they have built a strong community of over 3,000 women, a safe space for women to discuss reproductive and sexual health concerns where they are empowered with the right tools, resources, and information. The platform is a bootstrapped venture.
“This space is very nascent, and we are starting to see some early activity in this market. I am happy to see other startups emerging - it goes to show that the need is real and the problem is huge. I don’t think it’s a winner take-all market, and different startups will appeal to different user preferences and needs,” Mehak says.
Since the platform launched its first product last week, Mehak believes the growth story is yet to unfold.
She also feels entrepreneurship is a long and often lonely journey. “I am very grateful for my early supporters and mentors. I have been part of Qualcomm’s inaugural fellowship for women entrepreneurs. I was directly coached by Qualcomm’s Senior Director of Engineering, who helped me refine my product roadmap. I am also very lucky to have very supportive friends and family, who have been a sounding board in every step of the way.”
Uvi Health’s plan is to deliver a superior and consistent user experience to women facing challenges around every major reproductive health event – from menarche to menopause.
“I think it is a great time to be a woman in the entire history of humanity. As someone who is solving for women's health issues, I couldn’t be more excited. While there is still a long way to go and women still remain underrepresented in VC funding allocations, the ecosystem of support for women entrepreneurs is growing,” Mehak adds.